The Big Let-Down

It’s the day after Christmas. Some will spend the day cherishing newly made memories. Others will nurse reopened wounds–wounds that took them by surprise when out of the blue, scar tissue ripped off, ushering in feelings buried deep within. And staring at the tinsel, the wrapping paper, the newly-opened gifts, they wonder if perhaps something’s wrong with them. Where’s their yuletide joy? Their Christmas spirit?

There are as many reasons behind the holiday blues as there are those who suffer from it. Anxiety regarding financial problems, loss of loved ones, relationship difficulties, and the onset of colder, darker weather can all trigger a downward spiral. Add to that the expectations of holiday euphoria, and many are left with a tragic let-down.

Christ came that we may have abundant life–free of guilt, shame, anxiety, and bitterness. The promise is there, but we have to grab hold of it.

Having trouble finding the “joy, joy, joy, down in your heart”?

Maybe it’s buried beneath a hefty mound of baggage. Now that all your presents are unwrapped, perhaps it’s time to do some unpacking.

Join me on Internet Cafe Devotions as we talk about seemingly random behavior in light of our bulging suitcases.

(Read the article here.)

Then tomorrow come back as I post the last of my top 20 blog post finds for 2011.

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A Moment of Reflection

This morning I received a phone call from my nephew. He’s four. At first, I thought it was a prank. Initially, all I heard was heavy breathing and a mumbled voice in the background. Apparently, it took a few seconds for him to get the nerve to speak. The background voice? That was my sister  coaching him. Telling him to talk…into a piece of plastic…to a woman she said was his aunt but whom he couldn’t see. Ah, to live in the head of a child!

But once he got going, he didn’t waste any time getting to the reason for his call. (I wish I would have taped it!)

“Thanks for the—what is the surprise for me and Abby?”

Apparently, my package had arrived.

I laughed, envisioning my giggly nephew prancing through the house, asking my sister again and again, “When can I open my surprise from Aunt Nenny? Please, please can I open it today?” (And no, you cannot call me that. That name is reserved for family members under the age of five.)

His enthusiasm sprinkled joy on my day. But as soon as I got off the phone, I picked it up again. To call a friend who wasn’t viewing the holidays with the same enthusiasm. A friend who would need a steady dose of prayer to get her through.

Maybe you can relate. Perhaps you’ve recently lost a job, or are clinging to a decaying marriage. Or maybe those family members you’re about to visit sour your stomach. If that’s you, if you find the holiday’s to be a bit more grueling than joyful, then this song’s for you. Make this holiday season a time of reflection–a time that you go back to the moment of truth. The day you first talked to Jesus and He reached out for you.  And remember, He’s still reaching for you. He’ll never let you go.

Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Americans Love Their Clock

Last night our church talked about the parable of the Good Samaritan and somehow this led to a conversation on social mores and customs. (I’m not sure if it was a way to excuse our Americanized, “It’s all about me” mentality, or if we just happened to hop down a rabbit trail or two.) The jest of it was that Americans do things so differently than the majority of other nations. Many of our neighboring countries place a high priority on relationships. According to our small group leader, in Africa, relationships are valued to such an extent, one stays until a conversation is done–until the conversing party excuses them. There’s no, “Hey, I hate to cut you off, but I’ve got to go.” If you miss work, you miss work. I suppose you’d learn to schedule your fellowship time on Saturdays. lol.

In America, it’s all about productivity and achievements. People think nothing of fathers who can’t make it home for dinner or mothers who have their nannies on speed dial. It doesn’t take long to figure out where our priorities lie. Relationships? Not high on the list.

And before I get too far, I have to admit, I am very guilty of putting my schedule before relationships. Partially because I’m an introvert–a gregarious introvert, I suppose you could say. It’s not that I can’t handle social events–in fact, I’ll probably be the most talkative of the bunch. It’s just that I’d prefer to stay at home. With my computer, my books, and maybe some softly playing music. But if I’m not careful, my tasks can dominate my day, leaving others feeling a bit unappreciated.

This is a balance I’m not sure I’ll ever master, but it’s one I can never neglect. For me, scheduling works best. (That sounds a bit odd, I know.) With my family, there are certain days and times that I set aside to be available. With my friends, I’ve had to schedule days in. That way I can’t “get too busy” or conveniently decline. And with my daughter, it can be even harder because as a teen, she’s convinced she doesn’t need parental time. Only I know she does. It’s the time spent in leisurely walks or nestled on the couch that will glue our hearts together when the threat of rebellion seeps in.

Elizabeth George, author of A Woman After God’s Own Heart, has an effective way of keeping first things first. Each day she grabs a slip of paper and folds it into individual sections. Each section is given a category: God, husband, children, and so forth. She begins with prayer, “Lord, show me how I can demonstrate that you are first in my life today.” Then, “Show me how I can love my husband today.”

She comes up with one tangible way to bless each of the individuals on her list. For her God category, perhaps that means spending time in prayer. For her husband, it might mean cooking a special meal. Or maybe she’ll call and ask, “What can I do for you today?” (Gotta tell you, the first time I tried that one, I was pretty worried. Visions of my husband unloading a mammoth to-do list filled my mind. But most of the time, his requests have been very minimal.) It doesn’t really matter what the action is. What’s important is that she took the time to be intentional with her love.

It’s always better to be proactive than reactive. I’ve known so many couples standing on the other side of divorce that highly regret the lack of time they spent investing in their marriage. I’ve also seen countless parents watch their children spiral into destruction, wishing they’d been more consistent with family time and Bible discussions.

But on the flip side? I’ve also witnessed many couples married for decades still light up when their spouse enters the room and I’ve watched numerous adult children look upon their parents with deep respect and admiration.

They say hindsight is twenty-twenty, but all you’ve really got is  today.

So here’s the challenge: the holidays can be stressful or enriching. You can have the best decorated house on the block, attend all the right functions and buy that perfect gift for the tenth office party you’ll attend. Or, you can scale it back and determine to put first things first, even if that means saying no to that time-sapping function. Or perhaps forego cooking that ten course meal in order to spend a few extra moments with your family. Better yet, find ways to include your children or grandchildren in the preparations, focusing more on the event than the outcome. Meaning, if your ten year old’s iced cookies look a little less than perfect, let it go.

What about you? Are the holidays a time of stress or a time of celebration and connection? If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, perhaps that’s a sign to scale something back. What “Americanized’ traditions and expectations have seeped into your holidays, detracting from its true purpose? What steps can you take to refocus? What events and activities do you need to say no to? And what could you do simpler?

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the ever-invasive threat of materialism. Yeah, I know, this topic is way overdone, but if you’re anything like me, the constant reminder to put first things first with a counter-culture mentality is a constant battle. One worth contemplating periodically.

1 John 3:18 “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”